Saturday, March 29, 2014


For months, I have watched my Facebook news feed roll and roll with the haters of Common Core. And for months, I have just scrolled on and held my tongue. Today, I have had enough. I decided that today was the day I was going to share my knowledge of the CCRS (what we in Alabama call our Common Core: College and Career Ready Standards) and how beneficial it is to our children. 
Let's start at the very beginning. I feel like I am going to be all over the place with this because I have seen so many questions that need to be answered. 

How do you know anything about the Common Core? I have been teaching elementary school for 10 years, and for the last 2 years I have been an instructional coach. I have spent numerous hours in training for the roll-out of CCRS and have been in classrooms teaching the standards with teachers and children. And the best part? I am observing children actually understanding things they never understood before. 

Who created the Common Core? The best answer I hear is President Obama. And I like to chuckle at that. Yes, he has time to sit down and make a list of standards a kindergartner needs to master by the end of the year. Please people, I mean, he is having a hard enough time rolling out that website for health insurance. I can assure you he did not make the standards used for grades K-12. A group of state leaders got together and pretty much said they wanted all kids in the US to be on the same page with learning. They took the best standards (standards your child was already learning) from different states and combined them together. They got teachers together and got their input. They also got parents together and asked them for their guidance. This is wonderful. Why? Because if I choose to pick up and move to Montana tomorrow with my family, my child does not lose an ounce of learning. She is on target for any state we enter. There can be no state "better" than another. And believe me... as someone who is in the trenches, I have seen it. Years ago, I had a student from New York City who blew my children out of the water with reading. It made me want to take a field trip to PS 111 and camp out in her old classroom. And I have also seen the problems with children coming from another state and not even close to being prepared for my classroom. We are all on the same page now. I am not sure why this gets such uproar. Why would we not want our children to learn what other children are learning? It does not "dumb us down" these standards are deep. They are rigorous. They promote higher learning. I am not seeing the problem with this! 

What about those standards?  We have always taught using standards. Just like any job, we must be accountable for what we do each day. Teachers just don't wake up in the morning, roll out of bed and say "Whoop! Today I want to teach time and money! Yes! Sounds great!" Yeah, not how it works. We spend hours planning our day around a set of standards. And for as long as I have been teaching, that's how we have done it. The standards changed a little with Common Core. Some standards got moved to other grades because it was cognitively better for the children. Some standards were thrown out or squished into 1 sentence. Any way you look at it, they are the standards we have always used to teach children. 

Yes, but I know some of those standards teach anti-American ways or about other religions! Not one standard in elementary school has us teach anti-American things. Want proof? Please go do your own research. You can visit the CCRS standards page on our Alabama State website and read through them yourself. Do we teach about other religions? I can't find anything definitive in the new elementary Social Studies or Language Arts standards. But my question back to you is this: why is learning about other religions a problem? I am Catholic. I went to Methodist school. I learned a lot about the Methodist religion. And I am still Catholic. And by learning about other religions, I am a better Catholic. I think by learning about other's beliefs it would make me appreciate my religion. I had a mother at home who instilled in me our religious beliefs so I would continue to be a strong Catholic. So many times as an adult I have had to google questions I have about Mormons or Muslims. Why? Because no one taught me what those religions think. I have to do my own research so I can be an informed adult. 

Are there teachers who don't like the Common Core? I am pretty sure there are those teachers who don't like the CCRS. Does everyone in your job love every single thing your boss asks them to do? Just curious. I have spoken to some high school teachers who don't. And I get their reasoning. I really hope they come around. High school teachers are subject specific. Common Core makes them more universal. Math teachers have reading standards built in! (Oh! Math requires you to read! For the love!) And they received more standards than before. But we are trying to work together. We have a team here in Dothan City and we try to work together from elementary to high. We want to make sure that when we have a child leave our 5th grade they are prepared for what middle school needs, and so forth. 
I can also guess that there are teachers out there who just aren't doing the CCRS correctly. Don't you have those people in your job too? Stuck in their ways and refuse to attempt to change? And what do you do? Take a picture of their work and put it on a website and claim it is what it is not? That's what's happening to my job. Prime example in this news article. This dad just happened to get pissy about a math problem that could be solved the "way" he learned to do it, and by all means, his way is easiest. Do I think the teacher should have taken off points for the test? No. He got the correct answer. But I am not that child's teacher and I didn't see the whole test and what was asked of the student. 

This was a good segway into the math strategies portion of this post. 

I have always been a "math hater." There is an article circulating right now that uses that term and I like it. I was always a "literacy lover" and still am. But math never came easy for me. Fractions, elapsed time, division; all these things made my skin crawl, and as soon as someone put a word problem in front of me, I had a mini panic attack and immediately knew I would get the answer wrong. 
                         Until I started learning the Common Core.
Now, I am a mathematician. I have never been able to call myself that before. I understand math. I get the "why" behind a certain skills. How did I come to this amazing knowledge? By learning how CCRS teaches math. Listen to this... we all don't learn the same way. How many parents have sat around the dinner table with other parents and discussed how your child's teacher only taught one way? How your child is a visual learner or an auditory learner? 
CCRS teaches strategies. You can sit around all day and tell me that when I subtract I need to "borrow" a number, and "carry" another, but that makes absolutely no sense to me. Why are we carrying? Who and what are we borrowing from? CCRS strategies show children what numbers are and why you can't take a big number from a smaller number. It is teaching your child to think. Oh the horror! Pull them out of school! 
Let me give you an example. This year, I spent time in a first grade classroom. I taught a strategy called "mental math" first thing every morning. I would pose a problem, give the children some "think time" and then ask them to share out their strategy and answer. They couldn't share without their strategy. I wanted to watch them talk it out. No paper, no pencil, just me and their friends. We all listened and respected each other. I wrote down what they said. We had been doing this for about a month and I was seeing dramatic test result increases and tons of motivation and class discourse. I posed the problem 8+7 to them and asked them to think of a strategy (we had previously been learning strategies for addition, so they had a few in their brain). Each child let me know when they were ready and I would write down exactly what they said. And then came little cutie who blew me away: "Mrs. B, this is what I did: I made that 8 a 10. I did that by taking 2  from the 7 and giving it to 8. That means that the 7 is now a 5. So now, I have 10 plus 5 and that equals 15." HOLY MOLY. Did I expect that? No! And I jumped up and down and hollered and then explained it again in teacher way for everyone else. Could she have counted on her fingers? Yes. Could she have memorized 8+7? Yes. Is there a problem with that? No. But do I know that  she understands number concepts? YES! So going back to that article with the engineer dad and his "you could have solved this is 5 seconds by doing it this way" do you see what I am getting at? Math has to make sense for children and if we teach them multiple strategies for a problem it will help them do just that. Your child might like to borrow and carry. Then great! If they understand "why" they need to borrow and carry, then let them use that strategy. If they need to make a number line or use a ten frame, then let them do it that way. Eventually a child will wean themselves off a strategy with multiple steps and find ways to make it easier. But at least they are thinking and understanding. 
I use math many times as an example when helping others understand CCRS. This is an area most of us struggle in. But reading standards are just as important. We are teaching children to "close read" where they take passages of text and really dig deep. We teach them about vocabulary and words that are used in every day language and words that we would use for certain jobs. We teach strategies for reading and writing, and people, they are working. One of the components I love is the increase of non-fiction text. 

My child is struggling for the first time! I get it. These standards make it harder right now. Hold tight, believe in your child, support your child's teacher, and give it a minute. We are taking children who could just "look in the back of the book" for the answers, and making them thinkers. Being a thinker isn't easy. They have expected us to give them the answer at the end so often they only want to please us as teachers and parents. Let them think and most of all, let them try. 

I can't do my child's homework with them. Aaah yes...this one I hear a lot. Instead of trying to do your child's homework with them, have your child teach you. Let your child show you some of the strategies they are learning. Do you only read TO your child? Or do you let your child read to YOU? It's the same with math. Let them show you. Don't be so quick to show them our old way of doing math. If they still can't get it, write their teacher a note. Ask for some tips. Ask for the strategies they are learning in class. But don't give up. This is not going to happen over night! It has taken me a year to learn all the ways one can work a problem. Help your child find the one that works for them and show you and explain it to you. You'll be surprised at what your child can teach you! 

I know I haven't hit every problem people have with the Common Core, but I hope I started some positive conversation. Please feel free to comment with any other questions and I will make sure to answer you. 
Please, as in all things, become informed about what our children are learning. Do your own research on the standards. (Meaning, don't read the biased Fox news articles, actually look at our standards pages) Don't bash something you are not working in daily, or because Suzy's mom hates it. Ask someone who does it daily. 
I am frustrated too. I don't like someone bashing something I love to do and something I am watching work for our kids. I went to college for a reason and continue to educate myself with professional development and my own research so I can be the best teacher and instructional coach I can be. 
At the end of the day, it is all about our children. I will advocate for them until I no longer have a voice. 
We should all strive to push our children and advocate for their learning. I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite people, Dr. Bice, our State Superintendent: 

"Incorporating the Common Core Standards into our already highly regarded content standards brings a new level of rigor and perceptual understanding to teaching and learning.” 
Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama Superintendent of Education


Mike Lindsey said...

Nikki, I am a retired superintendent and former director of instruction for a large system in Georgia. I actually grew up in New Brockton, and spent many years in the Daleville City System. I want to congratulate you for embracing Common Core Standards, and say that I feel your pain. I spent a portion of today taking on some vicious people on Fox News Facebook page............inviting them to present ONE single standard and tell me why they felt it was politically motivated or detrimental to kids. Obviously, they couldn't.............they haven't even read them. They are just spoiling for a political fight.........and being conservative myself, I can understand that position. These standards are apolitical, and were produced through coordination with an association of state governors and chief state school officers (superintendents) from across the nation. There is so much false information out there, it's hard to put all of it to rest, but thank you for attempting to address a few of them.

Nikki B said...

Mr. Lindsey-- thank you for taking time to read my little rant. I agree with you. So many people want to make this political and leave the children to suffer.
I know we have such a long fight ahead of us, but if we can just change the minds of a few, we can start the battle a little stronger. Blessings to you!

Kim Maddox said...

I enjoyed your post! I can only speak on the mathematics standards since I haven't taught any of the others. I agree, whole-heartedly, with helping children to understand the "why" of Math and not just "because that's the way you do it". I think Common Core has been looked at in a negative light because of the Go Math! curriculum at our school. It shows the students these various strategies, but only spends a VERY little amount of time on each one. The students are flooded with so much information and different ways to solve the problems that they are confused and frustrated. I have experienced the tears first hand. The reason I don't like the way it's done is because there is no room for mastery of a certain skill before moving on to something else. They only touch on "a little bit of this and a little bit of that". I'll take fractions for instance. Go Math! will have one lesson (one day)on converting improper fractions to mixed numbers and back (day two). Then they start having students do actual operations with fractions. Two days isn't nearly enough time for students to master conversions, especially if they are still having to draw little circles inside larger circles to figure out how many times 3 will go into 12. I have found that some of the students don't feel "confident" in math like they use to because they aren't mastering the skills. I'm not necessarily blaming this on Common Core as much as I am the Go Math! curriculum. That's why we are changing next year to a curriculum with a different approach. It "meets and exceeds" the Common Core standards, so hopefully things will be better. I know there is no perfect curriculum out there (we plan to supplement quite a bit with this new one). I'm just not a fan of Go Math!

Mike Lindsey said...

Stay in the fight, have a clear perception of the value of the standards. For too long, we've taught processes instead of concepts.............computation instead of understanding. We have spewed forth reams of facts to have them regurgitated on Friday, and forgotten on Saturday.................with no real understanding as the product. Your post is traveling on the internet..............I shared it to my page, and a very good teacher from my former system in Georgia just shared it this morning. Your thoughts represent those of many terrific teachers out there who have finally discovered something valuable and are worried that it will be removed from their grasp by politicians. Again, thank you for being brave and standing for children.

Anonymous said...

Good point Kim! I think your comment represents a big part of what has set some people off. I have seen the examples posted on facebook of the "political propaganda" and I have seen the curriculum that doesn't quite cut the mustard. Neither of these represent
Common Core....but the curriculum. I don't know about you but with me, some days you do a side step, throw out the curriculum, and hang out where your kids need some additional support! Common Core may have been thrown at all of us, including curriculum developers, but it isn't the devil. I also believe that as teachers, the panic being lifted up about Common Core is doing nothing to encourage parents...what do you think is going to happen if the ones responsible for using these standards are in a tizzy? Buckle down...learn the standards and teach the children. We have all been flexible through curriculum changes, instructional strategies, and technological advances!

Nikki B said...

Kim---Yes! Programs are the majority of the problem. And because we as teachers have been asked so often to make sure we teach the program we are missing the bigger picture with the standards. We thought we were doing the right thing by teaching a program to "fidelity" and I feel this is our downfall. We put our trust into people who want to make money from us.
GoMath is tough. I try to tell teachers to use that as a resource, but it is so hard! With only a certain amount of days in a year, a pacing guide that must be followed, and sadly, state testing in the spring, we feel rushed to teach those strategies.
I sat down with my principal last summer and talked through some of the things I wanted to accomplish in first grade this year. Having that open dialogue helped to form an understanding that admin might not see me crack open that GoMath book for a day or two, but I could explain what standards I was working on with my students using something else.
Thanks for reading and sharing! ;)